JOHNSON COUNTY– One local developer has proposed a plan for an outdoor boat storage facility close to North Liberty, and the idea has taken on water with disapproving neighbors.
However, in its formal meeting of Aug. 8, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved the first reading of a rezoning request by Duane Kunkel of Solon that would allow him to stay on that course.
In 2011, Duane and Connie Kunkel purchased 68 acres at 2229 Scales Bend Rd., from Matthew and Brenda Conklin. The site is the previous home to the Lazy L rodeo venue and horse riding club, but Kunkel has revamped the area by installing a pond, clearing some of the foliage and demolishing the old buildings. He told the supervisors last week that his plan was to maintain the property as a rural acreage without a residence, but that he wanted to create an open boat storage rental business there in order to generate some revenue. County ordinances only allow open boat storage as a conditional use in three of the county’s zoning districts; either AR (Agricultural Residential), C (Commercial) or RC (Rural Cluster).
The Kunkel property currently contains two different zoning classifications, a residual of some mass zoning actions of the 1960s: (R) Residential; and (A) Agricultural, neither of which allow for the open storage of boats that Kunkel has admittedly engaged in for the last 18 months on the property. Therefore, he sought to rezone about 12.5 acres to AR in order to proceed with a conditional use permit application to the county’s Board of Adjustment.
The Johnson County Planning & Zoning Commission reviewed Kunkel’s application in June, and after hearing complaints from seven neighbors in the meeting and receiving other written objections and documentation about Kunkel’s activities on the property, deferred action on the application for 30 days. On July 8, the commission voted 4-0 (with one member absent) to recommend the supervisors deny approval of the rezoning request.
Still, Johnson County Planning & Zoning Assistant Director RJ Moore told the supervisors last week he felt it was an appropriate conditional use for the property in the county’s immediate non-agricultural growth area, that it fit with the county’s Land Use Plan, and recommended the board approve rezoning it to AR.
Complaints include reports that Kunkel has both burned and buried toxic materials on the site, ranging from building materials and old appliances to creosote-soaked telephone poles, potentially impacting the surrounding groundwater. The neighbors stated Kunkel had livestock on the property– sheep, specifically– that were chronically getting loose and roaming into the roadway, creating traffic hazards. The Johnson County Health Department was called to the site because of an outhouse that Kunkel erected on the property, essentially a shed over an open hole in the ground and reportedly about 100 feet from a neighbor’s property line and drinking water source. Another neighbor complained that Kunkel had burned an old mobile home on the property, which caused significant toxic-laden fumes in the air, and had received citations from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and health departments in other counties where Kunkel has also developed properties.
Kunkel responded to many of the claims last week.
“We want to preserve this area at all costs,” Kunkel told the supervisors. “We are putting up a fight to come up with some sort of supplemental income on this land without it going to housing.”
About burning the mobile home, Kunkel said he first called the North Liberty Fire Department to inform them he would be burning the refuse, and he followed the same practices for disposal of two homes he demolished in Linn County, under the direct supervision and scrutiny of the Linn County Health Department.
“It went perfect, there were no problems at all,” Kunkel said, and he had not received citations from the DNR, but simply a warning in 1999 because of soil runoff that occurred during periods of heavy rain that couldn’t be remedied until the rain stopped.
Kunkel admitted building an outhouse on the Scales Bend property, but said he had since filled it in.
“Yes, I was turned in for digging a hole, and using it,” he said. “We had a family reunion. Lo and behold, the health department came and said we can’t use it. But in that discussion, I asked if I could just go into that timber and use it (as a bathroom), and (health department officials) said, ‘Well yeah, but you shouldn’t.’ And then I said what about the Amish, aren’t they using these things (outhouses)? And they said, ‘Well yeah, but they shouldn’t.’ Well, somewhere along the line I stopped making that dash to the timber and went back to using (the outhouse).” That’s when a neighbor came over and took photographs to document the outhouse was being used, Kunkel said. “But in eight months of using that outhouse, it filled a two-and-a-half gallon bucket. That’s it. In that same area, I removed 15 to 20 loads of horse manure. Then I brought in fill dirt to cover it. That’s the extent of that, and I’m paying for it.” Kunkel will be required to put in a plumbed restroom if the public is allowed on the property.
Kunkel said he agreed with points made by two of his neighbors: concerns about the sight distance for vehicles pulling onto the curvy, winding road, and maintaining the quiet rural character of the area.
“That curve in the road does need to be addressed,” Kunkel said. “I’ve had close calls myself and it should be done, regardless of what is done today.” Further, Kunkel added, “It’s a tranquil setting, and we want to keep it that way. I’ve been falling trees in that timber with a chain saw, not with a bulldozer.”
Other concerns centered around potential impacts on the neighborhood should the rezoning and conditional use permit for boat storage be granted.
Tom Cannon, who lives on Scales Bend Road, pointed out Kunkel’s plan includes no measures for monitoring the rental business.
“Usually when somebody does something like this, they have a house there where they can monitor what goes on,” Cannon said. “He’s not going to have any infrastructure, there’s not going to be any security, no fencing, no gates, no lighting; it’s going to be a magnet for criminal activity.”
Neighbor Marge McGowen was also concerned about the potential for theft, and because the proposal has no dump station for chemicals.
“The opportunity for people to improperly dispose of waste oil, gasoline and antifreeze is there. Without any supervision, even if it’s illegal on paper, it’s going to happen. Vandalism will be unlimited,” said McGowen. In her experience, McGowen said she had a theft from her own boat that was secured in a shed on her own property, and two thefts from a boat that was stored in a secured marina elsewhere. “With no security, this is just going to be a temptation for trouble.”
Several neighbors stated they are concerned about their property values declining if a storage business is started on Kunkel’s property. Scales Bend resident Dick Trimble raises thoroughbred horses on his abutting property, and he said his horses are continually spooked by the activity of dump trucks and construction vehicles next door. Mike Brotherton said an open boat storage facility can be unsightly and will change the peaceful character of the neighborhood.
Kunkel disagreed that the boat storage facility would cause problems for neighbors.
“I assure you if I think I am losing value for our property or anybody else’s, it will come to a halt. I just don’t see that coming; it’s nothing but boat storage. It’s about the most benign behavior you can get. People literally come through with their boats, roll down their windows, ask you how you’re doing and they’re gone with their boat. Nobody stays, nobody changes the oil in their boats. Some of these comments are bizarre.”
After Kunkel and his neighbors had a chance to speak during the public hearing, the supervisors were slow to respond. Supervisor Rod Sullivan clarified to the audience that his board is only responsible for addressing the rezoning request, and that the conditional use permit required for a boat storage business was up to the county’s Board of Adjustment.
Supervisor Terrence Neuzil agreed.
“Our role has nothing to do with the conditional use. The question for the supervisors is this request complaint with potential changes, and does it fit the character of the area, and that is ultimately what we are deciding up here. All the other arguments, whether you like a neighbor or not, quite frankly, that goes to the board of adjustment,” said Neuzil.
Neuzil noted that should this initial rezoning request fall through, Kunkel could request to develop the property into a residential subdivision with the potential for many homes and increased traffic.
“I’m just advising you all that a no vote today leaves the potential for a significant amount of development out there,” Neuzil said.
Assistant County Attorney Andy Chappell also noted that since outdoor boat storage was also a permitted conditional use in RC, Kunkel could potentially develop the property as a residential cluster development and still apply for a boat storage permit.
Supervisor Janelle Rettig posed a hypothetical question.
“So if the applicant came forward with a rural cluster application, and wanted to build between 40 and 80 homes, on 86 acres, they could also in that case go to the board of adjustment and ask for boat storage on one of the outlots, right?” she asked.
Moore confirmed that was the case.
Chappell noted while the board of supervisors does not issue conditional use permits, it could put stipulations on the use of the property to protect the area and make sure use doesn’t get out of hand, such as requiring security or lighting, fencing or hours of operations, and in response to a question from supervisor John Etheredge, Moore said the permit could be revoked should those conditions be violated.
Rettig moved to approve the first reading of the rezoning request, and four the five supervisors weighed in on their decisions before the vote.
Sullivan said whether or not the rezoning was approved would not determine Kunkel’s behavior as an environmental steward, and he saw the boat storage area as having the least impact on traffic and the quiet nature of the neighborhood, as opposed to a rural cluster subdivision.
Rettig said whatever mistakes had been made previously, the county health department had no current objections. She based her yes vote on individual property rights and the application’s compatibility with county ordinances and the corridor land use plan.
“A property owner has private property rights, and they can do a couple things within our ordinances and regulations. We can pass the most stringent ordinances as possible, but once we’ve done that, landowners have right to private property right to use their land within our rules. Eighty homes is possible on this land, and I find AR to have the least impact on the neighbors,” said Rettig.
Supervisor Pat Harney felt open boat storage was not an appropriate use for the area, and voted against the rezoning, as did Neuzil.
“The issue to me is opportunity, and looking at the character of the area, I think there is a better zoning possible in this area. I would like to deny this to potentially give the landowner another opportunity to look at some more opportunities available,” Neuzil said.
The rezoning request passed 3-2, with the second consideration likely to appear on the supervisor’s agenda for their Aug. 15 formal meeting.